Biomedical Engineer Alessandra Carriero Receives Prestigious NSF CAREER Grant

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Alessandra Carriero,

The five-year grant will aid research on therapies for brittle bones

Alessandra Carriero, assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering and director of the Biomechanics Laboratory at Florida Tech, has been awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award to investigate therapies to enhance the quality of life for people suffering from disabilities secondary to bone fragility, such as osteogenesis imperfecta (OI).

OI is a major genetic disorder of bone characterized by multiple spontaneous fractures leading to progressive skeletal deformities and severe disabilities, such as reduced mobility, hearing loss, and respiratory problems. Children with OI may experience more than 10 multiple fractures a year, which can already be present at birth. There is no cure for OI, and current treatments have limited success. Current treatments for bone fragility rely mainly on the use of pharmaceutical drugs, such as bisphosphonates (a class of antiresorptive drugs), with controversial efficacy results.

Carriero said, “I’m extremely honored and grateful to receive this NSF CAREER award. This grant will allow my research group to conduct critical and innovative science-based investigation in bone to predict success of treatments for bone fragility. We will develop an advanced platform to investigate crack propagation in bone, accounting for its local 3D structure and composition. This study will revolutionize the design of treatment strategies for bone fragility and fill a gap in the current literature by explaining the direct effect of therapies for OI on the bone resistance to fracture, and informing on how to improve their effectiveness.”

As fracture and fragility are the main symptoms of OI, Carriero’s NSF CAREER grant aims to evaluate the performance of current therapies addressing the disabilities of OI by examining the actual bone resistance to fracture. Combining rigorous fracture mechanics experiments with high-resolution imaging and innovative computational models, her project will examine the relation between structure, composition and mechanics of the bone in OI and in treatments to reveal the mechanisms of crack propagation in bone at unprecedented details to improve therapy successes.

Being able to predict the effectiveness of a therapy will have a huge real-world impact and bring a massive gain to the economy, health and welfare of our societies. Carriero said that the lack of a cure or an effective treatment for brittle bone attracted her to study this subject in more depth.  “This project will potentially transform treatment strategies for various bone fragility disorders, not just OI, by offering new knowledge about the mechanisms of fracture in bone and establishing guidelines for bone treatment effectiveness. This will advance discovery of new effective therapies and ultimately provide better care for millions of people afflicted by bone fragility and related disabilities.”

NSF will support Carriero’s proposal “Are current therapies addressing the disabilities of osteogenesis imperfecta effectively?” for the next five years with a grant for $543,546. Three Ph.D students from her group will work on highly interdisciplinary innovative research in collaboration with world-leading institutions such as the Hospital for Special Surgery, Cornell University, Imperial College and Royal Veterinary College in London.

Results from Carriero’s research will produce state-of-the-art material that she will directly integrate into her course lectures in biomechanics at Florida Tech. To reach people globally, online videos will be recorded in Carriero’s lab to enlighten public understanding of function, fracture and health of bone. Kindergarten though 12th grade students will be welcome to work under her supervision on projects for science competitions, and patients with OI will be hosted in Carriero’s lab during the summer to learn more about research in brittle bone.

She said, “We want our community to be engaged with our research that promotes health. Our outreach activities will increase awareness on bone mechanics and fragility, and help explain the science behind it.”

Carriero joined the Biomedical Engineering Department at Florida Tech in 2014. She received an MSc in Biomedical Engineering from Politecnico di Milano in 2005 and a PhD in Biomechanics from Imperial College London in 2009. Subsequently, she worked at ETH Zurich sponsored by an IDEA League Fellowship. In 2010, Dr. Carriero was recipient of The Global Research Award from The Royal Academy of Engineering, and went to work at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California at Berkeley. Before joining Florida Tech, she was a research associate in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London. Carriero has received several national and international recognitions for her research in the field of biomedical engineering, including the prestigious Sir George Macfarlane Award from The Royal Academy of Engineering in 2012, The John Haddad Award and The Harold Frost Award both in 2016 and both from the American Society of Bone and Mineral Research. She is member of several international professional societies, and served as a Member-at-Large in the Board of Directors of the Orthopaedic Research Society in 2015-2017.

Carriero’s research examines bone multi-scale mechanics and mechano-adaptation in growth, aging and disease with the aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of bone fractures and deformities, and aid in the development of new treatments for skeletal pathologies.

 

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